As the Veteran Affairs system faces a major overhaul, this Asheville, North Carolina veteran-owned startup is poised to help.
When 45 year-old former combat engineer Aaron Sanders met 32 year-old former combat medic Brandon Sirois in early 2015 at an entreprenuership bootcamp at LSU, they realized they not only lived 20 minutes away from each other, they were both passionate about the dire lack of transparency in public and private services for veterans.
There was no single trusted place for vets to go and help each other navigate and access a standard that was from veterans and related to healthcare and benefits. The VA system even inadvertently acknowledged the importance of ratings and feedback after leadership was pressured from members of Congress and the public to release its internal ratings of 146 medical centers. In some instances, these ratings revealed gross inefficiencies and multiple failures to treat veterans at an acceptable standard of care.
“Making providers better is the answer, but it starts with listening to veterans and their families, and then improving their experience and engagement, ” says Sanders, who served in Afghanistan. “The VA is making strides in this area, but at the veteran and family level we quickly saw that a standard of trust was missing.”
Recognizing a mutual spirit for social entrepreneurship, the two decided to join forces. They sat down and started to sketch out and discuss ideas for a website they envisioned as a “a cross between Amazon Reviews and the Better Business Bureau.” This tool would let veterans rate and review organizations across the country, and provide critical feedback to improve the veteran experience and outcomes for larger systems such as the VA. The idea was to let vets see what other vets are saying after they quickly navigate the search for a specific resource, such as a home loan provider, training program, college opportunity, or health clinic in their area.
In turn, the tool would also give real-time feedback to VA centers, clinics, and other service providers. Studies show that 92% of consumers now read online reviews, up from 88% in 2014. Having a third-party online platform verifying consumer experiences helps improve the authority of a business or organization. And if the 80/20 rule is correct, in most cases, these businesses are spending 80% of their time on 20% of their customer base. That means, they’re not gathering crucial data and feedback from the rest of the customer base they need to succeed.
Sanders and Sirois quickly realized during beta development that the implications of this reviews system reached well beyond a simple star rating: it could be a way to provide valuable, helpful, up-to-the-minute data to service providers, too. “This could be a win-win for both veterans and the people who care and serve them,” explained Sirois.
“It’s all about communication. Open communication leads to improvement,” says Sirois. Sirois served in Iraq as a medic and various positions as a frontline healthcare provider afterwards, and is particularly dedicated to improving how vets access and navigate healthcare and benefits. “And transparency leads to accountability.”
As Sirois and Sanders worked on platform development, the review and feedback tool received its official name: TroopScore.
TroopScore.com became the first ratings and feedback platform dedicated to all of the systems that impact veteran life—not just the VA. The web app works on any device, and empowers veterans, military members, and their families to help one another by being able to rate services and organizations. The entrepreneurs envision this first product becoming a trusted family-to-family and vet-to-vet online knowledgebase and community, a way to ‘pass a hand and arm signal’ back. Reflecting their commitment to the community, TroopScore membership is always free to vets and family members.
On the flip side, TroopScore welcomes private resource providers and public organizations to list their services for free as well, and gain valuable feedback through objective, transparent reputation management. A 2016 report recently showed that 68% of consumers trust reviews more when they see both good and bad scores. This means that even if a VA center or a home loan lender receives critical feedback, it’s a trusted sign of objectivity as well as an opportunity to make things better and surpass standards.
“We have a background in user experience and market research, which we combined with established survey standards so that the data is applicable and actionable. TroopScore has to be independent and objective to work, but we’d prefer to focus on the positive to share what’s working and improve things,” says Sanders.
The system build-out took six months before TroopScore launched in beta form to its market on Veterans Day 2016. Over the winter, Sanders and Sirois slowly rolled out TroopScore to the public while gathering questions, concerns and bug test reports from initial users. Their interviews with vets and providers kept ticking upward, coinciding with a broader trend towards improving patient experience, patient engagement, and increased efficiency in healthcare. TroopScore was ready to serve in that role for the veteran community, much more than just a directory or review site.
Today, the web app is poised to be the next big thing in helping VA centers and service providers improve the way they help veterans, as well as serve as a community for military members and families.
So what’s on the horizon for Sanders, Sirois, and TroopScore?
“Everything we do is value-based,” Sanders says. “It’s about service and sustainable growth. At the heart of what we do is respecting the needs of our fellow veterans and their family members. So how we grow will be completely aligned with that.” The team is already starting to analyze the anonymous data it’s currently receiving to contribute to the ongoing story of vets and their communities. Assistance with on-site verification, organization partnerships, reporting and studies, and improved two-way patient engagement will be key milestones for the site’s founders.
“It’s been quite a journey to this point,” Sirois adds. “Now the real work begins. We’re going to help service providers and caregivers get the feedback they need to improve. Ask, listen, learn, adjust—we’re all in this together.”
Landmark Life Coaching’s (www.landmarklifecoaching.com) Mission is to honorably and respectfully serve courageous groundbreakers and transitioning veterans to persevere in defining and executing their future by providing an atmosphere of comradery and trust that honors their dedication and commitment. This will empower our clients to feel whole, honored, respected and fulfilled in defining and living their life purpose.
Charlie Mike Podcast (www.charliemikepodcast.com) is where our Nations Combat Veteranpreneur’s talk about how they transformed their combat experience into a groundbreaking entrepreneurial success. We will discuss their experience in relation to what I have defined as their VisualReality; their personal vision of building a successful business leveraging their combat experience to bring the core strengths of a combat veteran into the entrepreneurial realm.
Dwayne Paro - Veterans Coach/Podcaster/Blogger/Speaker